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Electrostatic sprayers, sanitizing stations, and nearly 5,000 pieces of plexiglass: How Boston is preparing to get students back to school

Boston school leaders prepare school buildings for in-person class, while bolstering remote programs with equity in mind

Clarence Jones, 87, has been working at the Mildred Avenue K-8 School for 30 years. Here, he prepared to fill up a bucket with water to be used for cleaning classrooms in July.
Clarence Jones, 87, has been working at the Mildred Avenue K-8 School for 30 years. Here, he prepared to fill up a bucket with water to be used for cleaning classrooms in July.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Wednesday the city is outfitting classrooms with tools to keep students and staff members safe, preparing as many schools as possible to bring students back, at least part-time, this coming academic year.

“We will not send students or teachers or staff into a building that is not safe,” Walsh said during a press conference outside Boston City Hall.

According to Walsh, some of the steps Boston Public Schools are taking to prepare classrooms include:

  • Fixing some classroom windows to ensure that at least one window in every classroom can open
  • Ordering almost 5,000 pieces of plexiglass to provide classrooms with plexiglass and vinyl separators
  • Providing nurses rooms with “properly ventilated isolation spaces”
  • Ensuring HVAC systems are working and replacing system filters
  • Buying electrostatic sprayers to disinfect surfaces — one for each school in the district
  • Installing sanitizing stations at school entrances and exits
  • Marking social distancing guidelines on the ground to keep foot traffic safe

Walsh also said all schools will be required to receive a certificate of inspection from the city’s Inspectional Services Department before it is allowed to open.

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“Just like we did with restaurants, just like we’re doing with some businesses in the city of Boston. We’re not going to treat our schools any different,” he said.

Reiterating what Boston Public Schools officials have said, Walsh emphasized that not all of the city’s 125 schools will necessarily return with the same teaching model. Some may pursue a hybrid approach that involves both in-person and remote learning, while others teach exclusively remotely.

In addition to preparing classrooms for students, school officials are working on bolstering the city’s remote teaching to close any gaps in the at-home programs that were abruptly launched in March, Walsh said.

The focus has been on equity, he said — finding a way to ensure that students whose parents are working outside the home have the support they need while also providing in-person instruction for children with special needs, those who are English learners, and those who are facing homelessness or housing insecurity.

“If we start all remote — and some of it will be remote — we have to make sure that we get it right because my concern right now with school is that we have a growing achievement gap, in particular for our Black and Latino students, and I’m concerned that if we don’t have the remote learning or the in-person learning right, that achievement gap is going to continue to grow,” Walsh said.

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“The spring was a crisis response,” Walsh added. “This fall will be more plans and more supported because we’ve had the time to sit down and work.”

By mid-September, when students are slated to begin the school year, they’ll have been out of a school building for six months, Walsh pointed out. In an ideal scenario, he said, he’d love to see children return to school five days a week, but that’s simply “not an option today.”

Instead, he added, school officials have been weighing their various top priorities — safety, education, and “the future of our young people” — to build a plan for starting the school year.

“This is a very, very fragile issue, very understandably,” he said. “8,700 people in Massachusetts have lost their life due to COVID-19, and that’s in Massachusetts, so it is a very fragile time, and I think that if we’re going to open schools, we ... have to sell and explain to people why our schools are safe to reopen.”


Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.